friar [Lat. frater=brother], member of certain Roman Catholic religious orders, notably, the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Augustinians. Although a general form of address in the New Testament, since the 13th cent. it has been used to describe members of orders forbidden to hold property. They are called mendicants because they were expected to work or, as later developed, beg for a living and were not bound to a particular monastery. The Council of Trent loosened the restriction on property ownership. Friars differ from cloistered, contempletive monks by their widespread outside activity and by their highly centralized organization. See monasticism.

A friar is a member of one of the mendicant orders.

Friars and monks

Friars differ from monks in that they are called to a life of poverty in service to a community, rather than cloistered asceticism and devotion. Whereas monks live cloistered away from the world in a self-sufficient community, friars are supported by donations or other charitable support.


The name Friar is a corruption of the French word frère ("brother" in English), and dates from the 13th century. The French word frère in turn comes from the Latin word frater, which also means "brother".

St. Francis of Assisi called his followers fratres minores, which G. K. Chesterton translated as "little brothers". However, another interpretation of fratres minores is "lesser brothers", because the Franciscan order stressed minority or humility.


There are two classes of orders known as friars, or mendicant orders: the four "great orders" and the so-called "lesser orders".

Four great orders

The four great orders were mentioned by the Second Council of Lyons (1274), and are:

  • The Dominicans, founded ca. 1215. The Dominicans are also known as the "Friar Preachers", or the "Black Friars", from the black mantle ("cappa") worn over their white habit. The Dominicans were founded by St. Dominic and received papal approval from Honorius III, in 1216 as the "Ordo Praedicatorum" under the Rule of St. Augustine. They became a mendicant order in 1221.
  • The Franciscans, founded in 1209. The Franciscans are also known as the "Friars Minor" or the "Grey Friars". The Franciscans were founded by St. Francis of Assisi and received oral papal approval by Innocent III in 1209 and formal papal confirmation by Honorius III in 1223.
  • The Carmelites, founded ca. 1155. The Carmelites are also known as the "White Friars" because of the white cloak which covers their brown habit. They received papal approval from Honorius III in 1226 and later by Innocent IV in 1247. The Carmelites were founded as a purely contemplative order, but became mendicants in 1245. There are two types of Carmelites, the Calced and Discalced Carmelites.
  • The Augustinians, founded in 1255. The Augustinians are also known as the "Hermits of St. Augustine", or the "Austin Friars". Their rule is based on the writings of Augustine of Hippo. The Augustinians were assembled from various groups of hermits as a mendicant order by Alexander IV, from whom they obtained papal approval in 1255.

Lesser orders

The lesser orders are:

Other name use

Friars have been used as a mascot. Schools using Friars as a mascot include Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, Texas, Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois, Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, St. Anthony's High School in Long Island, New York, Malvern Preparatory School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, and Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pa.


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